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Child looking up from the potty

Potty Training Wars: Why Won’t My Kid TELL ME When She Has To Go?

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’ve scoured your archives and can’t find the answer to the particular potty training problem we’ve been dealing with. After months of casually going to the bathroom on the potty, we decided to “boot-camp” my daughter over a long weekend a few weeks after she turned two. After a rough first couple of days, it seemed like things finally clicked and she started going to the bathroom on the potty regularly. She’s all about the “I DO IT MYSELF” and often kicks us out of the bathroom entirely while she’s doing her business. She’s dry after naps and we recently ditched the night-time pull-ups as well as she wakes up dry in the mornings too.

It all sounds like it’s going wonderfully, right? Here’s the problem: She still won’t TELL US when she needs to pee. Meaning if we aren’t watching the clock and aren’t fully aware of when her last potty break was, she will just pee all over herself. She’s a very verbal child and has been telling us when she needs to poop since the very beginning of potty training– she hasn’t had a single pooping accident since we started (which seems to be the total opposite of most kids. Go figure). So it’s not as if she doesn’t have the means to communicate her needs with us.

There have been a few times (maybe 5?) that she actually has told us she needs to pee or has just gone to the bathroom on her own, and we heaped on the praise and rewards when that happened. She clearly feels bad when she pees in her pants, to the point of starting to cry sometimes. I’ve tried not changing her pants right away but all that does is get more urine all over my house, which ew. It’s been 2 months now… shouldn’t she be able to be a little more independent on the potty-front by now?

Thanks!

She’s still young for a potty-trained toddler

Nope, this all sounds about right. She’s on the younger side of potty training, which SOUNDS like every parent’s dream scenario, but the reality is that a lot of the “training” is actually going to require you to train yourself. So you’ll need to watch the clock and prompt and remind her to take potty breaks for a while longer. That’s pretty much life with a newly-potty-trained toddler. And even some not-newly trained toddlers.

Two months isn’t long enough for this to be second nature to her yet, and most two-year-olds (and most three-year-olds, and even a lot of four-year-olds) just aren’t great about stopping what they’re doing to use the bathroom. They’re actually kinda notoriously BAD about it, in fact. Who wants to stop playtime and go use the boring old bathroom?

(“NOT MEEEEEE,” says every toddler ever.)

Plus, she’s still learning to listen to her bladder’s cues (and probably still has a ways to go when it comes to correctly predicting how much time she has before “I think I need to pee” turns into “I NEED TO PEE THIS VERY SECOND OH NO IT’S HAPPENING”). She also might not always remember that she’s no longer wearing a diaper and can’t just…go…whenever she needs to. In time, yes, she’ll get better at either telling you she needs to go and/or just running to the bathroom when nature calls, but I wouldn’t expect that just yet, this soon after potty training.

Tips to help your newly-potty-trained toddler

The easiest thing to do is to set an alarm on your phone (there are also potty-timer apps, if you want to get fancy). You can either try asking her if she needs to go when the alarm goes off, or if the answer is always “no” and then an accident ensues 15 minutes later…just make it a mandatory potty break. And then try to incorporate regular breaks into her day whenever you can — before you leave the house, as soon as you come home, before/after meals, etc. Do not scold or shame over accidents — just keep it super matter-of-fact and assure her that it’s nothing to get upset about! It happens! She’ll make it to the potty next time! You’re still so proud of her!

In time, the whole potty habit and ritual will become more ingrained and she’ll be ready for fewer reminders and more independence…though be prepared to still spend the next year or two moderately obsessed with and/or micromanaging her bladder.

More Advice on Early Potty Training:

1. The Pros and Cons of Early Potty Training
2. Potty Training Realism

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Kat
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Kat

Agree – 2 is on the early side (nice job!!) but that does mean lots of management on your side because yep, 2 is still pretty young to expect her to take her little self to the bathroom every time or even most times without a lot of prompting. We started training at about this age, and ended up reverting back because we just found that we were trained more than him (yeah, no diapers, but stopping everything every 15-30 minutes for our super well hydrated kid was not worth it at the time, especially if we needed to run… Read more »

ELF
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ELF

Yeah, my son was “trained” (could pee in the potty and be dry all day without diapers as long as an adult put him on the potty at regular intervals) by 2.5, but he absolutely had no clue when he had to go until he turned 3, at which point we worked very deliberately on transferring responsibility to him. We did not try to make him responsible for getting himself to the potty until he was regularly getting himself there already.

Alice
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Alice

We trained my daughter just before 2, and almost 9 months later we STILL need to occasionally remind her to go or she gets too busy/distracted/is having too much fun. (Which isn’t meant to be discouraging – just even fully potty trained little ones still need some regular reminding/prodding!) I’d recommend the excellent Daniel Tiger episodes on potty training (season 2 / ep 1, I believe?) which have some great potty songs, including one that my daughter continues to sing regularly: “if you have to go potty, stop, and go right away!” It helps reinforce that it’s normal and important… Read more »